BY GREG OLWELL | FROM THE FALL 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Any ukulele this small is going to make you think it’s a toy, but the Ohana O’Nina is no disposable ukulele-shaped-object. Ohana pulled a fast one on everyone when, a few years back, it released the very playable—very tiny—11-inch scale-length sopranissimo ukulele it calls the O’Nino. Now, it adds the O’Nina, a willow-bodied sister finished with a dark yellow stain, to the pocket-sized family.
The ukulele world has always thrived on novelty, and the O’Nina’s tiny size plays into that trait. Yes, its pocket-sized format is novel, but the Ohana O’Nina is great fun to play. At a mere 17 inches long, the O’Nina’s total length is the same as the scale on a tenor ukulele. At this size, the sopranissimo’s small body and short neck takes some getting used to, but getting used to navigating the O’Nina is fun in the same sort of way that driving a tiny car down the narrow streets of a medieval Italian city is fun.
Not surprisingly, the tone of the wee uke is small—not quiet, but small. This petite plucker has virtually no low-end to speak of; it’s all upper midrange and treble, with little sustain. Picking the O’Nina created a bright plink that reminded me and several listeners of a Chinese stringed instrument, like a pipa. It’s a sound that’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and it’s not likely to be anyone’s number-one uke, but the O’Nina is a useful and fun ukulele for the musically curious. One place that I think the O’Nina would really shine is any situation—like a uke club strum-along or uke orchestra—that could use a little more diversity in its sound.
BODY Laminate willow body, matte finish
NECK 11″ sopranissimo-scale mahogany neck; 12-fret mahogany fingerboard; geared tuners with vintage white plastic buttons; matte finish
EXTRAS Aquila strings; bone nut and saddle
MADE IN China
CK-14CL Cynthia Lin Signature model
The Ohana CK-14CL Cynthia Lin Signature concert uke is the kind of uke that will appeal to first-time or new players because of its low price, yet it delivers performance and tone that even advanced players will appreciate. Starting with its popular CK-14 model, which Ohana feels has the right look and price for a beginner’s instrument, they refined the design to suit the tastes and wishes of Cynthia Lin, a popular YouTube ukulele teacher, recording artist, and performer. The CL’s special features includes being spec’d out with Worth Brown fluorocarbon strings, upgraded tuners, side position markers, a new hibiscus fretboard inlay (also seen on another of our test ukes), and Cynthia’s signature on the headstock.
Though made with a laminated body, the CK-14CL had a tone that was more dynamic and complex than the flat, kind-of-boxy sounds I normally expect from similar instruments. Its snappy, lively tone made it a uke that I wanted to keep playing. The satin finish on the neck and body were very comfortable and the setup was what you could hope for, even in a uke costing twice as much.
The combination of quality, tone, and price makes the CK-14CL Cynthia Lin an exceptional value. It would be the perfect gift for a budding ukulele player, who will find it an inviting instrument to stick with for years, or the experienced player who wants a great-playing and solid-sounding ukulele for travel or knocking around.
BODY Laminated mahogany body; black body binding; satin matte finish
NECK 15″ concert-scale mahogany neck with 14 frets to the body; 19-fret rosewood fingerboard with abalone hibiscus-flower inlay at 12th fret; bound headstock with Cynthia Lin signature on mahogany overlay; Grover tuners with black buttons; matte finish
EXTRAS Worth fluorocarbon strings; bone nut and saddle
PRICE $179 (street)
MADE IN China
CK-450SMP Spalted Maple
From the minute I first unboxed this concert uke at the office, few people were able to pass by without being dazzled by it. Flashy decorative elements circle visually stunning woods and a unique slotted headstock, which caused both musicians and “civilians” to stop in their tracks and ask questions about the CK-450SMP. Before long, everyone was playing “What do you see in the maple wood grain?” like some sort of an amateur Rorschach test.
But, how important are appearances unless you’ve got the goods to back them up? Well, that’s where the Ohana’s sound comes in. Tone derives from a few sources, and the materials used for a uke’s top and back are two of the biggest contributors to its tone. The CK450 uses spalted maple, which, like koa, is a hard wood, and the two woods have a lot in common from a tone perspective. This uke has a warm tone with a crisp, bright sound that give plucked and strummed notes immediacy and presence, when played solo or in an ensemble.
The CK-450SMP’s setup was flawless, as you should expect from an instrument at this price, and it’s a great uke for people who want a good-playing, crisp-sounding concert uke with a custom-made vibe but without the price tag of a custom-made uke.
BODY Solid spalted maple top and back, with abalone purfling; maple sides; abalone rosette; mahogany binding with beveled edge; gloss finish
NECK 15″ concert-scale mahogany neck with 14 frets to the body; 19-fret rosewood fingerboard with abalone hibiscus flower inlay at 13th fret; spalted maple headstock overlay; slotted headstock with deluxe geared tuners in antique finish; gloss finish
EXTRAS Aquila strings; bone nut and saddle; hardshell case
PRICE $899 (MSRP)
MADE IN China
Ohana TK-39 tenor
Taking some of the strongest visual cues from Martin’s Style 3 ukulele, the Ohana 39 series spins them in its own way to create a modern take on an icon. The newest addition to the line, the TK-39 tenor, is a seriously dapper uke with a surprisingly rich tone that quickly had me feeling as if I might be playing a future classic.
I really liked all of the wood employed for the purfling strips around the body, rosette, and fingerboard. Compared to the celluloid used on the classic Martins, the wood decorations gave the TK-39 a more organic look and, in the long run, will probably save it from problems like binding shrinkage. The TK-39’s one style misstep, at least to my eyes, is that the neck’s honey-colored finish doesn’t match the body’s darker mahogany finish.
I got together with a buddy to rehearse a few ukulele duets and I kept reaching for the TK-39’s warm tone, clear projection, and comfortable feel, despite having several other options, including a few expensive new and vintage ukes on hand. With 14 frets free to the body, I was able to smoothly play around the fretboard’s higher end and could easily reach the top notes when I really felt like going high. Single-note and chords shined equally.
A crisp, dry tone and lightweight body are hallmarks of vintage ukes, and my tester TK-39 had one of the driest, crispiest tones of a non-vintage ukulele that I can recall. It was also a pretty light instrument, especially for a tenor with abundant decoration. Along with the satin open-pore-style finish on the TK-39, this points to Ohana using well-seasoned wood to nail not only the look, but also the feel and tone of an aged uke.
BODY Solid mahogany body; maple pendeloque top inlay; maple binding; black and white purfling and rosette; satin open-pore finish
NECK 17″ tenor-scale mahogany neck with 14 frets to the body; 18-fret rosewood fingerboard; black and white purfling strip on center with pearloid dot inlays; Grover nickel geared tuners; satin vintage finish
EXTRAS Aquila strings, bone nut and saddle
PRICE $569 (MSRP); $359 (street)
MADE IN China